When Dan Vizcarra first started wrestling in the seventh grade, he was baffled by the fact that his parents—Elias and Veronica—kept on taking him to club tournaments around the country, only to see him lose and secure an early exit.
“I’d go 0-2 in Oklahoma one week and the next week we’d be in Las Vegas and go 0-2,” the Gilroy High senior said. “I didn’t understand why they were doing it.”
Vizcarra knows why now. In a ceremony last week at school to recognize Vizcarra signing a letter of intent to wrestle at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Vizcarra recounted this story in front of family, friends, coaches and junior high wrestlers.
“I’m adding up how much it costs (and knew how expensive it was),” he said. “They truly believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Talk about supportive parents. Elias and Veronica even refused to eat until their son ate on his weigh-in days in what amounted to be more than a symbolic show of support. Wrestlers, of course, sometimes have to resort to drastic measures to make weight, including withholding meals for long periods of time, especially on weigh-in day.
Vizcarra has high hopes for his final season in a Gilroy High singlet. The Central Coast Section 138-pound champion and 12th-place finisher at the CIF State Championships last year, Vizcarra has moved up two weight classes and will most likely stay at 152 pounds this season. Being in a heavier weight class brings with it a set of challenges that Vizcarra has already prepared for.
“We have a great lifting program here, and the whole summer that’s what I’ve been doing non-stop,” he said. “(After last year’s showing at state) I knew I had to get stronger and work on my strength. I wrestled at 138 last year and felt somewhat strong. This year so far at 152 I’ve been stronger than everyone I’ve wrestled.”
Vizcarra does a variety of compound movements, including squats, deadlifts, hang cleans and the bench-press. He can squat over twice his weight, and his skills on the mat have improved as well. Led by UFC champion Daniel Cormier, the Mustangs have a Who’s who of assistant coaches who have wrestled at a high level, including Shawn Brunch and Kyle Crutchmer, a pair of two-time NCAA Wrestling All-Americans.
“All of these coaches around me are great wrestlers,” Vizcarra said. “I can’t help but get better.”
It’s a testament to Vizcarra’s work ethic and drive that he’ll be wrestling at the next level. Compared to most of his peers who end up at four-year universities, Vizcarra started late in comparison. The Cal Poly coaches knew this, and in essence told Vizcarra that his best is yet to come, that Vizcarra’s ceiling is sky high.
Vizcarra emailed his signed letter of intent back to Cal Poly on Nov. 14, a couple of days after he took a visit there where Cal Poly made the offer. Vizcarra gave his verbal commitment on the spot, knowing it was the school for him.
“It was crazy and it didn’t hit me right away,” he said. “I was like, ‘Dang, I’m going to Cal Poly.’ It’s such a beautiful campus and they gave me a great offer. I knew it was the place for me. It’s been my dream school since I started wrestling.”
Vizcarra is believed to be the fourth Gilroy High wrestler who will wrestle at Cal Poly, joining past greats Jesse Delgado, Dominic Kastl and Kordell Baker, Gilroy’s first-ever state champion. Vizcarra credited several people for helping him to get to this point. One of them was Gilroy High Athletic Director Jami Reynolds, who has known Vizcarra since he was in middle school.
“I knew this kid was special when I saw him doing homework in between wrestling matches,” Reynolds said at the honorary signing.
Vizcarra lost a lot of matches in his first year before he started to rack up the wins. Vizcarra soaked up all he could from coaches and educated himself on how to lose weight properly and doing all the right things to set himself up for success.
“I’m really thankful for all the people around me,” said Vizcarra, who noted the special meaning that he’ll be the first person from his immediate family to go to a four-year school. “I’ve had a great support system.”
Vizcarra plans on winning a state title this season and helping lead Gilroy to its first-ever team state championship. The Mustangs finished second last year at state for the second time in program history, and this year they’re as loaded as ever.
“This year is my year,” he said. “I’ve raised my expectations no doubt, and I know I’m going to win it this year. And I’m going to the NHSCA (a prestigious high school national tournament) and I’m going to do the same.”
Vizcarra is part of a loaded Gilroy team that is as deep as ever, with eight wrestlers ranked first in their respective weight classes and three more ranked second. That means the Mustangs have either the No. 1 or No. 2-ranked guy in 11 of the 14 weight classes.
Vizcarra still has a photo of former Gilroy High standouts Paul Fox and Niko Villarreal signing their letter of intents to wrestle at four-year programs.
“I remember them doing that four years ago and wanting to be in that same position when I got the chance,” Vizcarra said. “For me to do it now is unbelievable.”